The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie (9781534414464)
When Gwyn and her family move in with her Nana in rural Iowa, it’s a big change from living in New York City. It’s all to help her mother, Vienna, develop new memories. Vienna remembers nothing since she was thirteen, including Gwyn and her little sister Bitty. Gwyn and Bitty quickly befriend two boys from the neighborhood, Micah and Jimmy. They live with Micah’s mother, Gaysie Cutter, a woman who tries to bury Gwyn alive the first time they meet. So when a man goes missing, Gwyn knows that Gaysie had to have something to do with it. Now she just has to prove it and not damage her friendship with Jimmy and Micah along the way. But there are many secrets in their small town, ones that threaten to topple Gwyn’s theory of Gaysie’s guilt.
This is Makechnie’s first novel, and it is very impressive. Gwyn is a stellar character, who doesn’t shy away from being entirely herself and different from everyone else. She is a girl who will learn how to lift fingerprints, share her theories directly with the police, stand up to a group of bullies, and dare to speak up around Gaysie Cutter. All of the characters are well drawn and interesting, including Gwyn’s mother who is struggling with the limits of her memory, her father who could be a suspect too, and the two boys who are as different as possible but also brothers through and through.
This story has many layers, making it a very rich read for middle graders. One piece that really works well is the layering of the previous generation growing up in the same small Iowa town. As Gwyn learns of the connection between her mother, father and Gaysie during their childhood, she also finds out about a terrible accident that changed them all forever. That element is then echoed through to the present day with the new generation of children getting into trouble themselves.
A great read, a grand mystery, and a strong protagonist. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.)
In the third book by Usher that focuses on a specific type of weather, this one is sun-filled and summery. Told in the first person by the boy, he awakens to a sunny day that is just right for an outdoor adventure even if it’s “hotter than the Atacama Desert.” The two set off together with provisions and a large map. They walk and walk until they discover just the right place for a rest. Then they walk some more until they found some shade. More walking brought them to a huge cave. But when they enter, they discover some real adventure inside.
Usher’s books are told very simply. This picture book starts out as entirely reality based and then takes a marvelous fantastical turn when the pair enters the cave. All along, it is hinted at that they are walking on a real journey. The illustrations help tell this tale, showing huge skies, long areas to traverse and a changing landscape. User uses watercolors for the skies, creating vistas filled with summer heat colors that swirl on the page.
A winner in a great series, this one is just right for summer reading. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Here are some of the tweets I shared this week:
Children’s Book Council to Sponsor Diversity Award
Cynthia Leitich Smith wants Native teens to know their stories matter.
The Most Astonishingly Unconventional Children’s Books of 2018:
very glad to see that has posted ‘s keynote on the website; if you weren’t able to attend in person, please take the time to read it
What do you think of these girl stereotypes in picture book art? blog
Libraries Are Filling an Affordable Fitness Void – https://t.co/MLYqzhjAdA
A Library Card Will Get You into the Guggenheim – https://t.co/Fk3ppB34qK
I’m Very Into These Travel Posters Based On Famous Novels
3 YA Writers Tell Us Why They Wrote Books with Asexual Protagonists – https://t.co/0ume6R8Z3Y
8 Great YA Books Set in Outer Space
A round-up of 2019 YA books featuring teens of color on the cover (so far!):
Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin (9781338150520)
Rashin tells a story from her own childhood when she traveled for the first time to an American beach. She remembers beach trips when her family used to live in Iran. They took a car, stopping for a picnic lunch along the way. In America, the subway will take them to Coney Island. In Iran, there were strict beach rules. Women and girls swam separately from the men and boys. Her favorite memory was a day when little boys peeped into the women’s section and the ensuing chaos. In America, even the ice cream flavors are different, but Rashin may have discovered a new favorite with the help of another little girl. At Coney Island, the rules at the beach are less clear, but a new friend is quickly made.
The interplay between the two cultures is lovingly depicted, neither better or worse, just very different from one another. There are universal joys like cold ice cream, sand and waves. At the same time, the two beaches and cultures are shown with their own personality and uniqueness. The illustrations add to the sense of joy with their bright colors and smiling people. While the focus is not on religion, it is an inherent part of the illustrations and the story.
A grand example of why diverse books are so important, this book tells the author’s own story. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The 5 O’Clock Band by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier (9781419728365)
This second picture book by Andrews takes the reader on a trip through New Orleans. Shorty and his friends had formed a band. They called themselves the 5 O’Clock Band because that’s when they gathered to play. One day, Shorty got so caught up in his music that he missed the meeting time of the band. He tried to catch up with them, bringing the reader along on his walk past New Orleans landmarks and meeting musicians on the streets. Shorty longs to be a great bandleader and as he looks for his band, he learns lessons about being a leader along the way.
Filled with a deep love for the city of New Orleans, this picture book continues the story of Trombone Shorty’s childhood. Andrews’ writing is deft and musical, using repetition and rhythm to great effect. The illustrations by master Collier are lush and beautiful. They depict the richness of New Orleans on the page, filled with yellows and greens.
A jazzy picture book that inspires. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Here are the nominations for the 2018 Eisner Awards that are specifically for younger ages:
BEST PUBLICATION FOR EARLY READERS (up to age 8)
Adele in Sand Land by Claude Ponti
Arthur and the Golden Rope by Joe Todd-Stanton
Egg by Kevin Henkes
Good Night, Planet by Liniers
Little Tails in the Savannah by Frederic Brremaud and Federico Bertolucci
BEST PUBLICATION FOR KIDS (ages 9-12)
Bolivar by Sean Rubin
Home Time: Under the River by Campbell Whyte
Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez
The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill
Wallace the Brave by Will Henry
BEST PUBLICATION FOR TEENS
The Dam Keeper by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi
Jane by Aline Brosh McKenna and Ramon K. Perez
Louis Undercover by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault
Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Spinning by Tillie Walden
New Shoes by Chris Raschka (9780062657527)
A child has worn out their old shoes. They have couple of holes in them, big enough to put in a finger. Big enough that water can come in. The child heads off with their mommy to the shoe store. Their feet are measured and are bigger than before. New shoes are chosen off of the display wall. The yellow shoes pinch a bit. The red shoes are comfortable. The child heads off running outside and finds a friend to show their new shoes to.
Written very simply in the child’s voice, this book speaks to the joy of new shoes after wearing a pair out. It is the perspective of the illustrations that make this book so unique and special. Shown only from the child’s point of view looking down towards their feet, the illustrations focus on what the child sees. It’s endearing and very personal. A delight of a picture book for the youngest children, this one will make a great board book too. Appropriate for ages 1-3. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Toesy Toes by Sarah Tsiang (9781459813427)
This board book focuses entirely on toes and the joy of discovering them. With a diverse cast of children in the vivid and charming photographs that fill the pages, this one is a great pick for the smallest children. The book has a simple format, bright colors and a rollicking rhythm that keeps the pace brisk and lively. Sure to have everyone playing with their own toes! Appropriate for ages 1-2. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Wee Beasties: Huggy the Python Hugs Too Hard by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths (9781534410800)
A lovely light-hearted board book that tells the story of a python who just can’t seem to hug things without squeezing them far too hard. Huggy tries to hug a balloon with an explosive result. The mess is even larger when he shows how much he loves cake. When a puppy enters the story though, it’s time for young readers to demonstrate a very gentle hug in the hopes that Huggy will be able to imitate them. Dyckman is an author who always gets her tone for young readers just right and this is no exception. Expect lots of toddler giggles with this one! One of those special board books that has a real story arc, this one is funny and filled with love. Appropriate for ages 1-2. (Reviewed from library copy.)
The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr (9781452159584)
When Grisha was a young dragon still learning of the dangers of the world, he is trapped by a magician into the shape of a teapot. He spends decades trapped in that form, decorating the rooms of the emperor and then joining the household of a small family. Luckily, the father of the family knows how to see magic and realizes what Grisha is. When Grisha is finally released from the spell, he is sent to Vienna to join the rest of the world’s dragons there. It is now after World War II and Grisha is one of the lucky dragons who still walks the streets of the city. He meets a very special little girl, Maggie, and they become close friends. But when Grisha starts to remember what happened to the other dragons, the two feel compelled to try to solve the puzzle and rescue the surviving dragons from the magic that binds them. But at what cost?
Weyr has written a very unique fantasy novel for children that is firmly grounded in the real city of Vienna and world history, but adds dragons and other magic as a vibrant layer on top of that foundation. The world building is cleverly done, meshing history and fantasy into something new and very special. The story is accompanied by illustrations done in black and white that are like small framed windows into the story.
The characters of Grisha and Maggie are compelling. Grisha is immediately fascinating partly because he is a dragon who isn’t quite sure of how a dragon should act. Maggie is a character who has grown up very lonely and then makes one of the best friends ever. Throughout the story there is an air of tragedy, of lost years, of forgotten tragedies. This melancholy only grows larger as the end of the book nears. I recommend having a few tissues on hand.
Beautiful, haunting and tragic, this is a special fantasy for young readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.
Here are some cool links I shared on my Twitter account this week.
Inspired by “Brown Girl Dreaming,” three middle schoolers and classmates created a diverse books project to impact younger students and literacy rates in Cleveland.
Jason Reynolds’s 2018 Lesley University commencement speech
New Kids’ Books Put a Human Face on the Refugee Crisis: https://t.co/C2LelBWw7o
Original Winnie-the-Pooh map sets world record at auction
“Proud” and other best books to inspire young readers: https://t.co/IZTYz7JAxb
Why Reading Books Should Be Your Priority, According to Science